“I needed to support the heavy lens whilst sitting in a moving Land Rover"

Close-up of elephant's eye
(Image credit: Graham Borthwick)

Entitled "So Blue", photographer captured this stunning close-up of an elephant's eye from a moving vehicle. He talks to us about how the photo was taken, and why it works…

1. Isolated view

Graham has captured the subject in a frame-filling way that offers the viewer an unusual perspective of a familiar animal. “It shows a different view of a wild animal that some may never have experienced before,” he says. To achieve this angle, Graham had to overcome some challenges. “Shooting from a confined space with such a physically long lens required careful planning and manoeuvring of the vehicle,” he explains. “I needed to support the heavy lens whilst sitting in a moving Land Rover. So I used a bean bag filled with rice to provide an appropriate level of stability.”

2. Level of abstraction

Through Graham’s compositional choices, the elephant has been placed in an unusual context. The skin has become a structure where the more commonly viewed three-dimensional form of the animal has been minimised and the elements are presented side by side on the same layer. This makes for an interesting view that is only interrupted by the central element of the eye, which brings the viewer back to reality. This considered effect is pretty rare in wildlife photography, as creative decisions often have to be made quickly before the moment is lost.

3. Deep textures

The elephant has been photographed to fill the frame, so attention is drawn to features that might otherwise be lost. “This shot shows several contrasting parts together,” says Graham. “The image illustrates the presence of contrasting colours and textures on the skin, starting near the eye and spreading across the shot as a whole.” Light and shadows highlight the details, providing the contrast that brings them to life, while precise focus and sharpness emphasise the animal’s features.

4. Eye-catching

Graham has created a pathway that leads the viewer through the image. “Concentrating the focal point on an eye allows an entry point into the image. It then follows a clockwise motion into the shadows underneath, down the trunk and back into the less coarse area near the shoulder.” By taking this route, the viewer’s gaze is directed from the more complex and harsher distinctions in the face and head to the smoother, more neutral colours on the left.

Graham Borthwick portrait
Graham Borthwick

Graham is an action and sports photographer based in the Cotswolds, England. He has an eclectic mix of imagery which he says is a result of exploring his style while seeking out as many opportunities as he can to capture the beauty of life

Tech details

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Lens: Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sport

Accessories: Bean bag 

Aperture: f/8

Shutter speed: 1/320sec 

ISO: 200

Digital Photographer

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Kim Bunermann
Technique Editor

Kim is the Technique Editor of Digital Photographer Magazine. She specializes in architecture, still life and product photography and has a Master's degree in Photography and Media with a distinction from the FH Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences in Germany. While studying, Kim came to the UK for an exchange term at the London College of Communication. She settled in the UK and began her career path by joining Future. Kim focuses on tutorials and creative techniques, and particularly enjoys interviewing inspiring photographers who concentrate on a range of fascinating subjects including women in photography, the climate crisis; the planet, its precious creatures and the environment.